Fine, so it isn’t my kitchen this time and I didn’t even cook. Still, I have to share the delicious menu I got to enjoy last weekend on a real txoko get-together that I was invited to during my current foray into Basque cuisine.
A “txoko” is basically a place or apartment equipped to cook and eat with plenty of people (the perfect place, period!). In this case, it was a two-story house: huge kitchen upstairs, long tables and a bar downstairs. A “txoko” generally belongs to a “cooking society” which is a common fixture for Basque men in their free time, next to rather obscure rural sports.
These “sociedades” – traditionally a male-only thing – can range from the extravagant super-gourmet group to the more regular “cooking and eating well with friends” variety. It’s a happening in any case. The family dinner I was invited to hosted about forty people (three generations), two of them cooking (uncle and nephew) and an aunt and niece helping out – and everyone under fifty running up and down the stairs all the time to bring down dish after dish. The lunch was supposedly more of the “regular” variety, and I have to say that was my favorite part: “normal”, affordable food that shines through fresh ingredients and traditional, no-nonsense recipes.
Even though I tried to document every dish, the “croquetas” (a delicacy that will warrant a special entry some day) were gone before I could even get out my camera. But I’ve collected a few impressions! (all photos: click to enlarge)
Kitchen treasures collected over decades and obviously much in use – there’s no other way a handle can end up that smooth.
Traditional gas stove top and pans that could have fit half a bull (they probably do, on occasion).
One of the entrée salads (the other was was sautéed potato with slices of bonito del norte (white tuna)) – simple, but so good: peeled tomato in slices, with thin slices of garlic, olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Another popular variation is a combination of the two: sliced tomato (peeled), bonito and garlic with olive oil and salt.
Revuelto de setas frescas – creamy scrambled eggs that are not scrambled and don’t contain cream. The main chef collected the forest mushrooms himself (!) and I still don’t know how he manages to make these eggs so creamy.
A revuelto is a very purist version of scrambled eggs – it’s James Bond eggs: stirred, not shaken, and stirred only in in the pan. You still need to be able to tell the while from the yellow by serving time. Also, no salt or other other spice, just eggs, the mushrooms (or fresh green garlic, or asparagus, or shrimp, or cured ham, or a mixture of any of these), and that’s it. Ah yes, and stirring only with a wooden spoon. Don’t overcook! (also I’d like to point out that the Coke can isn’t mine. Who wants Coke when there is really good Rioja at hand?).
Rabo con piperrada – slowly simmered beef tail (not sure whether bull or ox) with red and green Spanish peppers, sautéed in olive oil with a generous amount of garlic. Both the meat and the peppers literally melted upon the tongue. Piperrada is another very typical Basque dish, also popular with fried eggs on top.
Redondo con puré de patatas -another beef cut, thinly sliced and simmered in a rich sauce with minced carrots. On the side: creamy mashed potatoes.
A fabulous Crianza with the meat (of course Rioja – a question a glance at the wine section in any Basque supermarket will easily resolve)…
…and if you need to open a lot of bottles of Crianza, you better have one of these mounted to the wall.
Dessert time: Rosquillas. I still didn’t manage to find out what the dough is made of – it’s slightly dense, not fluffy, and makes the rosquillas crumble into your mouth at first contact. They’re fried, covered with powdered sugar and as their special ingredient, they hold another Basque favorite: anise.
As soon as I manage to recreate any of these, I will post recipes at length (I just need to get that chef uncle on the phone first for a few detail questions.)